Woman to direct ATF here Moore's appointment is a first for bureau

December 26, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Margaret M. Moore is about to become Baltimore's version of Eliot Ness.

Ms. Moore starts here Jan. 10 as the first woman ever to head a field office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Her appointment is a landmark in a field once considered untouchable for women.

As head of the newly formed Baltimore command unit of ATF -- an arm of the Treasury Department with roots in the days of bootlegging, criminal mobs and Al Capone -- Ms. Moore will oversee 50 agents, about 45 of whom are men.

In the past, ATF had assigned about 35 agents in Maryland, but there was no special agent in charge.

Ms. Moore said she does not feel intimidated about having to head a nearly all-male office.

"I'm bringing leadership and direction. That's the bottom line," she said.

For women in federal law enforcement, Ms. Moore's appointment and that of a female FBI agent to head the bureau in Alaska are signs of the progress they have made since the 1970s.

"It used to be that 10 years ago, you'd go to federal meetings and you'd never see a woman," said Dorene Erhard, a U.S. Treasury agent and former co-chair of the Women in Federal Law Enforcement committee.

"But it's starting to change now. All the women hired in the '70s and '80s are moving up the ladder. I always knew Marge would be at the top."

Ms. Moore, 43, is a 16-year veteran who gained accolades early in her career when she went undercover posing as a gun moll and even as an Irish Republican Army gun smuggler in Manhattan.

"We never actually said IRA, but that's what we had them believing," said Ms. Moore, who had to hide her native New York accent for the role.

"I told them in the brogue -- it wasn't a real thick brogue, I didn't want to overdo it -- that I needed to get the guns overseas to Ireland."

She was convincing enough that the man sold her 3,000 silencers. He was later arrested for illegal trafficking of firearms.

"It wasn't hard to play the role. The hardest part, actually, was keeping from laughing," Ms. Moore said with a laugh.

Later, she helped secure racketeering and arson convictions against several corrupt New York lawyers, a Civil Court judge and landlords.

She also filled in as acting special agent in charge of the Philadelphia ATF office, and most recently was special agent in charge of operations in Washington.

"There will still probably be people who'll want to test me, but that's all right. I'm ready for this," said Ms. Moore. "Baltimore seems pretty much the same as other places I've been. There are people out there using and selling guns."

Daniel Hartnett, ATF's deputy director who chose Ms. Moore for the job, said the appointment is "a hallmark for us, but the bottom line is, she's the most qualified person for the job."

Addressing why it has taken this long for the first woman to be named head of a field office, Mr. Hartnett noted that the first female ATF agents were not hired until the early 1970s.

"In federal law enforcement, you have to expect it will take that long before you are qualified to be promoted to the position of special agent in charge," Mr. Hartnett said.

Baltimore was selected as the site for an ATF command unit because of its rising violent crime and murder rates, Mr. Hartnett said. The agency's main aims are to curb violence and illegal traffic of firearms.

With Baltimore bearing down on a possible record-setting year for murders, "we decided that the numbers justify an office there, and Marge Moore is the one to head it," Mr. Hartnett said.

A former Wall Street secretary, Ms. Moore started her law enforcement career in 1973 with the New York City Police Department. But she was laid off two years later along with 5,000 other officers in a huge cutback in manpower.

"The day before, I was buying drugs [as an undercover officer] in the South Bronx, and the next day I was in the unemployment line," Ms. Moore said.

In 1976, she landed a job as an agent with ATF's Manhattan office, which assigned her to several covert investigations into gun-running on Long Island and Manhattan.

The roles varied, she explained, from the Irish smuggler to a girlfriend of a supposed Mafia hit man.

"We dressed for the parts. . . . We used to have fun with it," Ms. Moore said.

Her most recent assignments in Washington have been geared around "Armed Criminal Enforcement Study," or ACES, a task force that studied the roots of the overflowing violent crime in that city.

The study showed that most of the guns used in violent crimes in Washington are shipped in from Maryland and Virginia, she said. "That's something we'll want to take a closer look at. Who in Maryland is selling these guns?"

When she moves into her South Gay Street office next month, she'll be part of an extremely small minority of high-ranking female federal law enforcement officers. The FBI recently assigned its first female special agent in charge at its Anchorage, Alaska, field office.

Roughly 10 to 12 percent of the nearly 28,000 federal agents in the United States are women, said Mary Ann Gordon, a Secret Service special agent and co-chair of the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Committee.

The committee, made up of representatives from over 30 federal agencies, began as a task force in 1978 to examine why there were so few women in federal law enforcement. Today, one of the group's main aims is to encourage promotion of qualified women to top administrative posts.

"Times certainly have gotten better, but there's still room for a lot of improvement," Agent Gordon said.

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